Dr. Matthew Shields, First Aid Innovator

Reprinted from "The Miner's Lamp", the Newsletter of the PA Anthracite Heritage Museum and Iron Furnaces Associates

A Background | Why First Aid? | Dr. Shields - Father of First Aid

A Background

The product of anthracite coal which fueled our nation's industry and heated its homes, especially in the 18th Century, was produced by miners working in dangerous conditions, many who gave their lives or suffered an on-the-job injury. Dr. Matthew Shields, who lived in Jermyn, PA, with an active anthracite colliery, had an idea to help. The Pennsylvania Historical Plaque reads:
"First Aid Pioneer Here in 1899, Dr. Matthew Shields organized first aid for mine workers, from it grew the plan of Red Cross industrial first aid, which he helped establish. Dr. Shields died in Scranton, January 23, 1939."

Jermyn also has a stone monument erected May 29, 1943, which honors the founding of industrial first aid in America. In 1949, the town held a 50th anniversary celebration on December 15, chaired by Edison Thomas of the Marvine Colliery with vice-chairmen Frank D. Shoemaker and Fred F. Gilbert. The celebration had a parade of high school bands and fire units of area towns, first aid and mine rescue units from local coal and mining companies, and ambulances from the Red Cross and the City of Scranton. Eight members of the original first aid class conducted by Dr. Shields were present. The formalities concluded with a banquet in the Jermyn High School gymnasium.

Why First Aid?

Historically, medical aid for wounded soldiers had been in effect for about 100 years by 1899, first being started by Napoleon to help his wounded soldiers. Other nations quickly followed suit and first aid for the soldiers continued to be improved. The U. S. Army followed the first aid principles of other countries.

By 1899, injured mining workers received only what medical care other untrained miners or other workers knew until a doctor was summoned and arrived. Dr. Shields is the first person to introduce first aid care into industry, and his organization of first aid at the Jermyn Colliery of the Hudson Coal Company was the first organized application of first aid to industry in the United States.

Mr. Edward Stuart of the Jermyn Colliery of Hudson Coal spoke in 1939 of the early days and how first aid was started. At the Jermyn Colliery, the ambulance was drawn by the same team of horses that delivered retail coal to homes. When a man was injured, the breaker whistle would sound three times to summon the wagon back. then, the team of horses was switched the the ambulance wagon and the injured worker was taken to his home to wait for the doctor. The driver had to drive carefully because of the poor roads. Mr. Stuart relates: "It was quite apparent that first aid training was very necessary at that time. The matter was discussed at different times. Finally, Mr. John Hogarth and Mr. John Tomain, miners at the colliery, first spoke to Dr. Shields about the possibility of first aid training."
"Dr. Shields called a general meeting, which was held in the old Windsor Hotel, now Edmonds Hotel, located at the intersection of Rushbrook and Main Streets in Jermyn, and spoke very interestingly about first aid training and the need for first aid work around the mines. The group present at the meeting was very much enthused with the result that the original first aid team in the United States was formed and this consisted of the following men, all miners at the time, at the Jermyn Colliery: Harry Langman, WIlliam Roberts, Edward Stuart, William Langman, John Tomain, John Hogarth, and Thomas Williams."

This general meeting was a volunteer effort, without sponsorship by the coal company. It was held on October 25, 1899, and attended by 25 people. The group decided to assess each member 25 cents a month for them to buy first aid manuals and supplies. Dr. Shields began the first aid instructions, eventually dividing the men into teams, forming the first team in December 1899.

Injuries by a fall off the mine roof was the most common anthracite mine injury and that was the case for the first accident to be treated by the new first aid men. Miner Thomas Champion was treated by Stuart, Roberts, and Harry Langman. Following the successful formation of first aid training at the Jermyn Colliery, it spread to other D&H company mines and then to other companies. After first aid's initial successes and resulting publicity, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed a law requiring anthracite coal companies to maintain properly equipped first aid rooms. This law helped to quickly spread first aid through the anthracite industry. Other industries followed the coal companies' lead.

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